Books, Calaveras, Family, Latino culture, Latino Family Traditions, Latino Literature, Mexican History, Mexican Holiday food, Mexican traditions

What’s up with Mexican Culture and Death?

                        La Catrina from the Book of Life movie poster
La Catrina from the Book of Life Movie

Yes, it’s that time again…not Halloween, but Dia De Los Muertos (Day of the Dead) on November 1 and 2nd.

I used to hear that celebrating Dia de Los Muertos (DLM)was morbid. But with some understanding of the cultural concept of Dia, it has become quite trendy–a real party.

We did not celebrate DLM in my Mexican-American home (In the 60’s we were Mexican-American, the 70’s Chicanos, the 1990’s Hispanic, 2000’s Latinos- a short history lesson).

Growing up Catholic, November 1st was celebrated as All Soul’s Day, and we attended mass (Not a party).

If you are ‘new’ to the Dia de los Muertos revelries, here’s a list I complied last year on the Icons of the Day of the Dead. 

And if you’d like to celebrate the days leading up to DLM, here’s a list of 10 Must Have Items for Dia De Los Muertos. 

Dia is trendy now but that’s okay. To me, this means DLM is not only culturally relevant to Mexicans, Mexican American, Chicano’s, but the concept also resonates with other people who agree that those who have passed should be honored, remembered, and celebrated.

Hey, even Hollywood jumped on the bandwagon. I’m so glad that the person who pitched this story idea was Jorge Gutierrez and that award winning director, Guillermo Del Toro signed onto the project.

Read this wonderful movie review of “Book of Life,”  by Melanie Mendez Gonzales.

If you’d like to become better informed or give your kids a wider multicultural view, here are some beautifully illustrated and written children’s books on the Day of the Dead.

Just a Minute by Yuyi Morales
Just a Minute by Yuyi Morales

This is a story about a young girl who helps her family prepare to honor her grandfather.

I Remember Abuelito-A Day of the Dead Story
I Remember Abuelito-A Day of the Dead Story

I like to use the remembrance cards that are given out at church funerals. I place these all over my dresser, light a candle, and re-read the cards and think about the good times I’ve shared with the person.

And now that you know a little more about Dia de los Muertos you can chose to honor your loved ones too by setting up a space on your counter or chest of drawers, with or without a candle, and place photos of the person (s) you’d like to honor.

Maya Angelou, Mexican History, poetry, Poetry Month, poets, Sandra Cisneros, Social Justice, Strength

Poetry on Wednesdays-Political Poetry

Poetry and Politics-JFK quote.
Poetry and Politics-JFK quote.

Remember high school English classes?

That was my first introduction to poetry. Old poets. Lot’s of ‘thee’s and thou’s,” and too much Old English stuff.

I was a studious person, more logical than emotional, so many poems went over my head.

That was until I went to college, in the mid ’70’s. It was an eyeopener when I read the profound words of contemporary poets Maya Angelou and Nikki Giovanni, who spoke of racism and the strength of women.

I found only two Chicano/Mexican American poets, both male: Alurista and the political activist, Rudulfo “Corky” Gonzales.

Yo Soy Joaquin, I am Joaquin, gripped me from the beginning.

This bilingual poem, published in 1967, summarized Mexican and Mexican American history, from the exploitation of the natives through colonial times, to the present. The poem served as a nationalist ideology for political activism, using the historical events of the 19th Century social rebel, Joaquin Murrieta.

The poem was groundbreaking, revitalizing, and began a social movement. Since it is several pages long, here’s an excerpt from the middle of the poem:

I am Joaquin. 
I rode with Pancho Villa, 
crude and warm, a tornado at full strength, 
nourished and inspired by the passion and the fire of all his earthy people. 
I am Emiliano Zapata. 
“This land, this earth is OURS.” 
The villages, the mountains, the streams 
belong to Zapatistas. 
Our life or yours is the only trade for soft brown earth and maize. 
All of which is our reward, 
a creed that formed a constitution 
for all who dare live free! 
“This land is ours . . . 
Father, I give it back to you. 
Mexico must be free. . . .” 
I ride with revolutionists 
against myself. 
I am the Rurales, 
coarse and brutal, 
I am the mountian Indian, 
superior over all. 
The thundering hoof beats are my horses. The chattering machine guns 
are death to all of me: 
I have been the bloody revolution, 
The victor, 
The vanquished. 


You can read the entire epic poem here. 

In the 80’s and ’90’s, I fell in love with poems and novels by Sandra Cisneros. My love affair with Ms. Cisneros’ work is well documented on my blog. For me, her poems in “Wicked, Wicked Ways” and “Loose Woman,” spanned the politics of women.

Ms. Cisneros is my ‘she-ro.’  My favorite poem is “You Bring Out the Mexican In Me.”

It’s also fairly long, so I’ll print one of her short poems:

Black Lace Bra Kind of Woman


Watchale! She’s a black lace bra

kind of woman, the kind who serves

up suicide with every kamikazi

poured into neon blue of evening

A tease and a twirl. I’ve seen that

two-step girl in action. I’ve gambled bad

odds and sat shotgun as she rambled

her ’59 Pontiac between the blurred

lines dividing sense from senselessness

Ruin your clothes, she will.

Get you home after hours

driving her ’59 seventy five on 35

like there is no tomorrow.

Woman zydeco-ing into her own decade.

Thirty years pleated behind her like

the wail of a San Antonio accordion.

And now the good times are coming. Girl,

I tell you, the good times are here.

From LOOSE WOMAN, 1994 pg. 78


Until next week, thanks for reading.









Andy Garcia, Catalina S. Moreno, Cristeros War, Dean Wright, Dr. Rudy Acuna, Eva Longoria, Faith, For Greater Glory, Jean Meyer, Mauricio Kuri, Mexican History, Religious freedom, Ruben Blades, Strong Women

What Price Would You Pay for Freedom?

For Greater Glory-photo filmofilia

As a Latina and an American of Mexican descent, I often anticipate the release of films that highlight the history of Mexico or the Latino experience in the United States. That was the case with For Greater Glory with it’s thought provoking tagline:

                                                  What price would you pay for freedom?

From the movie’s website: FOR GREATER GLORY:  General Gorostieta (Garcia), the retired military man who at first thinks he has nothing personal at stake as he and his wife (Longoria) watch Mexico fall into a violent civil war. As an atheist he hesitates joining the cause but soon becomes the resistance’s most inspiring and self-sacrificing leader, as he begins to see the cost of religious persecution on his countrymen… he transforms a rag-tag band of rebels into a heroic force. Yet it is those he meets on the journey – youthful idealists, feisty renegades and, most of all, one remarkable teenager named Jose – who reveal to him how courage and belief are forged even when justice seems lost.

The movie is the true story of the Cristeros War (1926-1929) which manages to blend personal, religious, political and historical events. 

The faith of the Cristero martyrs and the ruthless violence of war make this a heart and gut wrenching movie to watch.

The Cristeros War was touched off by a rebellion against the Mexican government’s attempt to secularize the country, which had a four-century-old Roman Catholic history. President Calles attempted to enforce the 1917 Constitution, which called for secularization including his own ‘amendments’ that clerics could not wear vestments in public, celebrate Catholic Mass, or give Catholic sacraments. Soon President Calles used violence to enforce the law.

There is an interesting article  written by Dr. Rudy Acuña, Professor Emeritus and historian. He states, “In my view, “For Greater Glory” must be put into historical context. The Cristeros… were not calling for religious freedom for Protestants or Jews. It was inspired by the Catholic hierarchy that eventually sold out the peasants.” 

The Vatican stayed mostly aloof from the bloodshed although President Calles ordered the execution of many priests and targeted any Catholics. It was said that Pope Pius XI was sympathetic to the Cristeros, but was reluctant to break altogether with the Mexican government. Other Catholic groups, including the Knights of Columbus in the US, actively supported the Cristeros and pressured for US diplomatic intervention. The US government, having intervened militarily in Mexico in the previous decade (Mexican Revolution), was eager to see the conflict settled so that Mexico could continue selling oil to the US.

Over the three years, approximately 90,000 Mexicans died in the fighting, at a time when the total population was about 15 million. To put those numbers in perspective, the same level of violence in the US today would mean nearly 2 million American deaths

The roots of For Greater Glory are deep. A young French graduate student named Jean Meyer arrived in Mexico in 1965 to write his doctoral thesis on the religious war known as the Cristiada. After five years of research and hundreds of interviews with Cristiano’s his thesis was completed and published by a Mexican publishing house in 1972. The book is in its 20th printing. The work done by Meyer ultimately helped to provide the general framework for the movie. Pablo Barroso, the movie’s executive producer, is a Mexican-Catholic who wanted the full story told.

As a viewer I felt this movie was well acted, especially by Ruben Blades and newcomer Mauricio Kuri, who gave a very moving performance in the film, as 14 year old José, a mischievous schoolboy who witnesses the atrocities of Calles’ law first hand and makes a pilgrimage to join the Cristeros and fight alongside General Gorostieta. I like the inclusion of the women’s role in this movie, illustrated by actor Catalina S. Moreno (of Maria Full of Grace movie). She and many of the other women are depicted as strong, intelligent, clever, loyal, and an integral part of the Cristeros movement. 

Dean Wright, (Lord of the Rings, Titanic), directed. The incredible cinematography of the movie lends to an authentic feel. Notwithstanding the accuracy of the historical facts and motivations regarding the movie’s theme, but  for ‘entertainment’ value this is a movie I’d recommend and see again.  

Authors, Aztec, Book Review, Books, Colin Falconer, Malinali Tenepal, Malinche, Mexican History, Strong Women

La Malinche: Heroine or Traitor?

Aztec by Colin Falconer: Book Review.

I read my fair share of books. If I took a photo of my bedroom (and I won’t because the camera on my iPhone 3GS is crappy) you’d see two to three deep rows of books lined up back to back in my tall bookshelf. There are smaller books on top of those rows, only one book deep because I may be messy but i don’t want to squash the books on the bottom.
Books totter on an end table, hold up a lamp, crowd on a footstool, and fill a magazine holder meant for, yes, skinny magazines not chunky books. I won’t take you on a tour of the family room or my bathroom. At least my Kindle Fire is dust free and orderly.  

Most of the time I don’t write a review about books that I’ve read. If I had to guess, I’d say I write one long review for every 15 or so books. The rest of the time, and if I remember, I rate the books I read on my Goodreads page or on Amazon. 

Today I felt compelled to review the book “Aztec” by Colin Falconer because it was one of the historical fiction books that left an impression on me, much like Michener’s “Hawaii,” and Villasenor’s “Rain of Gold.” 

“Aztec,” is the story of Hernan Cortes’ invasion and conquest of the Mexica (pronounced Meh-she-ca) natives in the early 16th Century. Falconer tells this enthralling story via several narrators. Cortes and Malinali are the main characters but this is primarily Malinali Tepenal’s (commonly called Malinche) story. 

The main reason for loving this book is because it is told primarily through her perspective. This gives us an understanding of her motivations for doing what she did.The book tells the story of her life, role, and motives as Cortés’ translator of Chontal Mayan and Nahautl, the Aztec language. She became baptized, his concubine and renamed Doña Marina. (Doña is a title like My Lady).

Whether Malinali was a traitor or harlot has been debated for centuries. Historians agree that she was the daughter of a noble Aztec family. Upon the death of her father, a chief, her mother remarried and gave birth to a son. Deciding that he rather than Marina, should rule, she turned her young daughter over to some passing traders and thereafter proclaimed her dead. She wound up as a slave of the Cacique (the military chief) of Tabasco. 

from Codex of Txlacala-Mexico 1519

The Aztecs called Malinali, Malinche. Even today, the word malinchista is a deadly insult, meaning traitor to the Mexican people. This name is also used to say a woman is someone’s mistress or a harlot.

By the time Cortes arrived, Malinali had learned the Mayan dialects used in the Yucatan while still understanding Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs and most Non-Mayan Indians. She soon learned Spanish. What is not debated in history is a letter preserved in the Spanish archives, from Cortés, which states, “After God we owe this conquest of New Spain to Doña Marina.”
The other facts that arise from this book and history are that Malinali Tenepal was an intelligent, loyal, and fearless woman. She loved Cortés, remained faithful to him, and bore his son, Martín Cortés, who became the first Mexican (a mixture of Spanish and Aztec or native blood).
I enjoyed the way this book was written but it did take a little readjustment in the beginning, especially with the different points of view. It does work, especially since the headings list who is telling the story. This provided for a 360-degree view of the characters motives. I agree with a previous reviewer: there are some typos, but not enough to make me stop reading.
Settings are vivid, descriptive, and in keeping with the landscape, customs, and clothing of the era. The lush imagery and authentic dialogue places one into the setting, giving us an understanding of the motives for the main characters.
Although some of the imagery is gruesome, it is necessary to tell the story. The themes of religion, culture, oppression, ambition, greed, good, evil and love are all explored. The historical facts seem accurate, as well as the use of the native language, description of dress, customs, music, and food.
This book would make for a fascinating screenplay and movie. Colin Falconer is a darn good storyteller.

Just so you know, I did not receive any compensation for this review.